IRL: Kentucky preview

Hornish-Lazier Title Battle To Resume At Kentucky SPARTA, Ky., Friday, July 27, 2001 - The lines are drawn. The subplots are thick. It's time for the next chapter of the race between Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier for the Northern...

Hornish-Lazier Title Battle To Resume At Kentucky

SPARTA, Ky., Friday, July 27, 2001 - The lines are drawn. The subplots are thick. It's time for the next chapter of the race between Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier for the Northern Light Cup.

Hornish and Lazier will resume their intense chase for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship and the $1 million champion's bonus at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 12 at Kentucky Speedway. It's the 10th of 13 races in the series this season.

The 200-lap, 300-mile race starts at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 12 on the 1.5-mile oval at Kentucky. ABC will televise the race live.

Hornish has led the Northern Light Series standings the entire season in just his second year in the series. He won the first two races of the season - his first starts with the powerful Panther Racing team - and has led thereafter in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Since winning at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami, Hornish has used metronome-like consistency to keep the lead with six top-six finishes in the last seven events. But it's almost impossible to say that Hornish hasn't looked back since opening with those two wins. Defending series champion Lazier is looming too large in his rear-view mirror to ignore.

1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier climbed into championship contention by winning three of the last four races in his No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, including two straight in June at Pikes Peak and Richmond, Va. He has trimmed Hornish's lead to just 40 points - less than a one-race margin. Hornish leads, 339-299.

In almost any other season, three victories in four races would deliver a convincing points lead. After all, Greg Ray and Kenny Brack each won three races in 1999 and 1998, respectively, en route to the title.

But Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing have been unable to land a knockout blow due to the uncanny consistency and maturity of Hornish and the Panther team. In Lazier's three victories, Hornish has finished second twice and sixth, letting Lazier take only small bites from Hornish's points lead.

So the tension will be high for both drivers and teams on the 1.5-mile oval at Kentucky. One driving error or one mechanical failure could be pivotal.

And there's very little to separate Hornish and Lazier at Kentucky, based on last year's race.

Lazier won, leading three times for 48 laps. But Hornish led three times for 38 laps driving for lower-budget PDM Racing in a breakthrough performance that was a preview of the superb form he has shown this season since moving to Panther.

There is one historical factor that favors Lazier. He is the only driver to win on every track length ever contested in Indy Racing League competition. Hornish's two victories have come on relatively flat, 1-mile tracks.

While attention will focus sharply on Hornish and Lazier, there are a host of drivers who are ready to take the spotlight if either of the frontrunners falters.

Scott Sharp is third in the Northern Light Cup standings in the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 95 points behind Hornish. He has one victory this season.

Rookie Felipe Giaffone is fourth at 241 points in the No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone and is a win waiting to happen as he seeks his first career Indy Racing victory. Veteran Eliseo Salazar is fifth at 236 in the No. 14 Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Billy Boat is coming off a second-place finish in the No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone on July 21 at Nashville Superspeedway, while Jaques Lazier - Buddy's younger brother - finished a career-best third at Nashville in the No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

A rising star could emerge at this event, if last year was any indication. Hornish wasn't the only driver to make a big breakthrough last year at Kentucky, as Sarah Fisher finished a then-career-best third, and Jaques Lazier led twice for eight laps.

Possible candidates for a breakthrough first career victory besides Giaffone include Fisher, 2000 Rookie of the Year Airton Dare, Robby McGehee, Donnie Beechler, Jeff Ward and Shigeaki Hattori.

BELTERRA CASINO INDY 300 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Belterra Casino Indy 300 starts at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 12. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon (EDT) Aug. 11.

Practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aug. 10, and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aug. 11.

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On the air: The Belterra Casino Indy 300 will be televised live on ABC at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 12. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11 a.m. Aug. 12 on ESPN2.

MBNA Pole Qualifying will be televised at midnight (EDT) Aug. 11 on ESPN2. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 1 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 12, followed by the live race broadcast at 1:30 p.m. A qualifying wrap-up show will be broadcast at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 11. The area affiliate is WCKY-AM 1360.

The IMS Radio Network race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 are available by calling (888) 652-7223 and online at www.tickets.com <http://www.tickets.com>. Go to www.kentuckyspeedway.com <http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com> for more information.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Shigeaki Hattori , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Jaques Lazier  , Donnie Beechler , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.